Since our trip back in August 2020, I have found myself attempting to explain the Skyliner hours to countless people planning Disney trips. Their questions almost always pertain to timing of reservations at Topolinos and whether they will be able to access Riviera via the Skyliner at certain hours. The occasional question also pops up about heading to Hollywood Studios from the back entrance (International Gateway) of Epcot on the Skyliner early in the morning. Both of these questions almost always get tons of incorrect responses from people on social media who do not understand how the Skyliner hours work currently (understandably). Thankfully my understanding of how things are working was expanded upon during our December trip, so I feel inclined to try to help others understand.
Disney has signs posted near all of the Skyliner stations listing the hours for each line. Seems easy enough. Generally the Epcot line starts an hour before Epcot opens (or sometimes 30 minutes if I recall correctly), and the HS line starts an hour before HS opens. Again, seems straightforward. However, when we were there in December, Epcot was opening at noon and HS was opening at 10am…. That should mean that the Epcot line starts at 11am and the HS line starts at 9am, right? Partially correct. The Epcot line will actually also be running at 9am (if not earlier) but will only be loading people heading AWAY from Epcot, in the direction of Riviera/Caribbean Beach. The logic is that at that hour, those people are heading towards HS from the Beach Club/Boardwalk area, so the line should be running towards HS an hour before HS opens. It is basically considered a method of transportation to get from Boardwalk/BC/YC to HS, so it begins running at the HS line hours in the direction AWAY from Epcot. However, you will not be able to board that same line heading TOWARD Epcot until the posted opening time (30 minutes or an hour before Epcot opens).
Previously I had noted (see post linked below) that the lines were running much earlier than posted and that you could access the Epcot line by showing evidence of a breakfast reservation somewhere that would require riding the Skyliner (ie Topolinos), but this is unnecessary now in most cases since they are letting anyone on at the Epcot station heading towards Riviera when the HS line starts running. If you arrive before any of the lines are technically open, but you see the Skyliner physically running, try showing your reservation and maybe they will let you on even earlier. It is hard to say exactly what time the lines start physically operating each day (they are usually physically running well before they “open” at their designated opening times). To be safe, I have planned Topolinos reservations for just after 9am so that we can get on the Skyliner at 9 and take the 5 minute ride over to Riviera.
Now on the other hand, if you have a reservation at Topolinos and are heading from Caribbean Beach/Pop Century/Art of Animation, technically the Epcot line will not be boarding any passengers at the Caribbean Beach station headed towards Riviera. However, this is a case where you should be able to show your reservation information to a worker at the Skyliner station and they will let you on the Epcot line at Caribbean Beach heading towards Riviera without a problem. We did this back in August with no issues at all. They should also let you return to Boardwalk/Yacht/Beach from Riviera before the Epcot line starts letting people on at Riviera if you were there for a breakfast reservation and can show that you are staying at one of those resorts (I was told this by a Skyliner cast member, but wasn’t in a situation that required my trying it, so let me know if anyone actually has experience with this). The Skyliner line gets quite backed up at Riviera around Epcot opening time currently since they can’t load multiple parties in one gondola, so at Riviera they have to wait for empty gondolas to come in from Caribbean Beach in order to board people. So if you can find a way to skip that line before it technically opens up, try to do so (you would just clarify that you aren’t even headed to Epcot, just back to your resort).
Hope this adds a little clarity. I know its confusing because it contradicts the signs that explicitly state the hours of each Skyliner line, but you basically have to consider the Epcot line as part of the HS line if it is heading away from Epcot towards Caribbean beach.